On Being Democrat

Political rhetoric against Democrats may become even more malevolent during the next two years. We need to listen to our own hearts and state our case with eloquence, passion, diversity and truth about why we are Democrats. This is not your typical blog. Democrats have an attention span that can handle philosophical discussions. Please help make this column become a voice to one another and send your thoughts to valsmith_4@msn.com

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Location: Spokane, Washington, United States

Friday, May 27, 2005

Why I am a Yellow Dog Democrat - Ken Burns

In 1998, Ken Burns of PBS fame gave a speech that still resonates today. The following are excerpts from that talk. “Why I am a Yellow Dog Democrat”

I was asked to speak...because some in our party thought that as a student of history, I might have a perspective on our doings.

They were also curious as to why I am a Democrat. Let me tackle the easier question first...why I am, in fact, what is called a yellow dog democrat.

First of all, I want to be in a party that looks like my country...that represents all of its people, not just the narrow interests of a moneyed few, who have by force of that unnatural wealth, been able to appeal to the lowest common denominators of fear and prejudice to advance an agenda not of positive change, but of self-interested retrenchment.

I am proud to be in a party that acknowledges that the strength of our Republic is a vigorous two-party system, that senses in its guts the infinite wisdom and genius of our founders in designing a government based on the lawful dynamic of opposition....unlike the other party which makes it clear, in word and deed, that they would be just as happy in a world without Democrats, without opposition, without healthy dissent...that is to say without the fresh air of dialogue, the fresh air of democracy.

Though it is sometimes difficult and painful to say, I am pleased I live in a world with Republicans, if only to set in spectacular relief the overwhelming good sense of my party...its staggering achievements over the last two hundred years and its positive message of growth and hope for the coming millennium.



I am proud to be in a party that has for most of its history taken the high road, refusing to divide people from each other, all the while offering a powerful vision of a prosperous, united America....all pulling in the same direction.

Remember, it is the modern Republican Party that has, for the first time in our history, run against our government...not just its policies, run against our government. Just think of it. We live in the freest, richest, least taxed country on earth, and still to them the best government ever invented is somehow not good enough. There is, of course, a honorable tradition throughout the two centuries of our history to rein our government, to ask tough questions of our elected representatives, to demand a more accurate accounting of its finances and affairs, to insure the power of states and individuals in exquisite tension with the Federal Government, but it has been the strategy of the Republican, for the first time in our history, to run against government itself.

In doing so, they have given comfort and strength and courage to the most un-democratic in our midst, sometimes with devastating consequences, avoiding the very real and complicated task of true patriots who have rolled up their sleeves and worked to constantly question, constantly reinvent government.

I am proud to be in a party informed at every level by passionate and active interest in good government, not no government.

In a party with a realistic vision of a proud future, not of a party clinging pathetically to a few old, utterly outdated slogans of knee-jerk conservatism like ”tax and spend” to tar a party, this Democratic Party. The party that is most responsible for the balanced budget and the stunning prosperity most Americans, of every political stripe, enjoy.

We are the party a majority of Americans have turned to in times of gravest national peril and doubt, a party that has seen and shepherded us throughout two cataclysmic world wars, a devastating depression, a technological race to the moon and beyond, and balanced the budget, all the while committed – in true Christian fashion – to the needs of the least among us, That is our party. We should be proud.

Our opponents constantly insist they occupy a moral high ground – selectively applying only those aspects of our shared traditions which comfortably and conveniently fit; and encouraging as they go along a form of extremism which goes against nearly every precept of our inclusive, knowledge-seeking, generous Judeo-Christian ethic.

And all in the name of conservatism.

But is it conservative to want to invade the bedrooms of every marriage in this land to impose a state-enforced version of morality, while neglecting at nearly every turn, the lasting health of its citizenry?

Is it conservative to squander the natural wealth and beauty of this great land for the short-term improvement of the bottom line of a select few men of privilege?

Is it conservative to neglect our most important resource – our children – by refusing to join in this administration’s (Clinton) efforts to establish obvious and needed standards of achievement, to set goals and priorities for an increasingly competitive world?

And is it conservative to run against a government which has for two hundred years been a beacon of hope to all he oppressed of the world, which has offered to prosperity a vision of how men and women might govern themselves, unequaled in human history?

I do not think so, and I am proud to be in a party at once conservative in the best sense of the world and progressive in its outlook for our future.

Indeed, that you, we have a job, and enjoy one of the greatest periods of prosperity, is due in a large matter to the combination of vision and tradition that this administration has brought to the most difficult questions of our times.

You know, for most Americans the learning of our history is like castor oil: dreary doses of dry dates, facts and events force-fed in boring classes with little apparent meaning in our daily life; something we know is good for us, but hardly good-tasting. It’s obvious why this has happened: many of our schools are now so concerned with teaching “relevance” that they’ve often stopped teaching history altogether and certainly taken the “story out of the great pageant we call our past.”

We also find ourselves in a mesmerizing media age which tries to convince us at every turn that if we just live in an all-consuming, and thereby forgettable present, surrounded by new gadgets and toys, that everything will be alright. After a while, we begin to suspect that it will not be alright, that we lack some inexpressible “something” that might give more meaning to our lives. I believe it is a yearning, among other things, to have a real and usable past, a yearning for heroes, for authenticity, for something that will connect us all together.

Most of us here, whether we know it or not, are in the business of words. And we hope with some reasonable expectation that those words will last. But alas, especially today, those words often evaporate, their precision blunted by neglect, their insight diminished by the sheer volume of their ever-increasing brethren, their force diluted by ancient animosities that have set one group against another.

We suffer today, the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has said, from too much pluribus and not enough unum. Few things survive in these cynical days to remind us of the union from which so many of our personal as well as collective blessings flow. And it is hard not to wonder in an age when the present moment consumes and overshadows all else – what finally does endure? What encodes and stores the genetic material of our civilization, passing down to the next generation – the best of us – what we hope will mutate into betterness for our children and our posterity?

This government, flawed as it sometimes is, holds the answer. Nothing in our lives offers more of the comfort of continuity, the generational connection of belonging to a vast and complicated American family, the powerful sense of home, and the great gift of accumulated memory than does an active participation in the nitty-gritty work of self-governing.

In the midst of the Civil War;, the first (and last) great Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, said “Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history---the fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation”

That, “the struggle of today is not altogether for today – it is for a vast future also”.
.......Ken Burns

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

yellow dog democrats, rat bastard democrats in name only, remember rat bastard ZELL MILLER at the FASCIST republicunt convention

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken Burns' entire statement is a distortion of the facts.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Nancy Roselli said...

Mr. Burns it would be the perfect time to air a program (PBS) of what you have stated eloquently in your Democratic beliefs. Too many Americans do not hear from yellow dog Americans like yourself. I salute you Ken. Thank you for your excellence in all you have given us in your documentaries.
Nancy Roselli

10:50 AM  

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